Melvin Jones was a dreamer, a doer and a pragmatist. He was an energetic, extroverted salesman who in private hours would reread Shakespeare. What better man to found the world’s largest association of service clubs?
The Lions International Board of Directors officially designated Jones as the founder of Lions Clubs in 1958—more than four decades after Lions Clubs held its first meeting. But, no matter what his official title, Jones’ impact on the Lions has been far-reaching. He provided the leadership, the organizational ability, the tenacity and the muscle necessary to establish the foundation for Lions Clubs International to become what it is today.
Jones was born on Jan. 13, 1879, at Fort Thomas, Arizona, a remote U.S. Army cavalry post where his father was a scout for the Army. At age 7, Jones’ family moved east and settled in Illinois. Gifted with a fine tenor voice, he considered making his career in music. Instead, he became an insurance salesman.
By 1913, Jones had formed his own insurance agency in Chicago. When he joined a networking luncheon club for businessmen in Chicago called the Business Circle, he quickly took the lead in recruiting new members and persuading backsliders to rejoin. But something about the club’s business-only focus didn’t square with Jones’ different, larger vision.
“What if these men who are successful because of their drive, intelligence and ambition, were to put their talents to work improving their communities?” Jones asked. He saw a new kind of club with the desire to help others.
As Business Club secretary, Jones, with help from his wife—the championship golfer Rose Amanda Freeman—wrote scores of letters to clubs nationwide inviting them to take up his idea for a service-centered organization. Businessman interested in membership convened in Chicago, Illinois, and on June 7, 1917, Lions Clubs International was born.
Later that year, at Lions’ inaugural convention in Dallas, Texas, Jones was elected secretary-treasurer, a title he would hold for many years. Eventually, the board bestowed upon Jones the title of secretary general for life.
Jones was a prolific writer who could be clear and forceful on some occasions, flowery and sentimental the next. His hand can be seen in founding documents like the Lions Clubs Objects and Code of Ethics. His columns in LION Magazine, which are still quoted today, helped articulate the organization’s principles and values.
He also loved aphorisms. Never one to sugarcoat the truth, Jones had one favorite saying neatly framed in his office: “Truth and roses have thorns about them.”
Jones gave up the insurance business in 1926 to become Lions’ de facto CEO and global goodwill ambassador. He played both roles brilliantly—building and managing an expanding headquarters operation and travelling constantly for club visits and speaking engagements. The pace never stopped.
Sometimes, as Lions, we can get caught up in the moment. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine beyond today. Sometimes we might even get discouraged by the staggering amount of need and despair in the world.
As a medical doctor for more than 30 years, I have witnessed the heartbreak of families who have lost a loved one. The grief of family member is magnified when the individual is a child – their child. It happens every day around the world, regardless of wealth, gender or race. Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) is stepping forward to find a breakthrough that will help secure a brighter tomorrow for all of us.
Recently I visited the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia. Our Foundation has awarded a US$2 million grant to support the Lions Kids Cancer Genome Project. Together with the Garvan Institute, the Australian Lions Children’s Cancer Research Foundation and other partners, this pilot initiative will improve outcomes for hundreds of children with high-risk cancer through whole genome sequencing. This could eventually serve as model for the development of personalized cancer prevention and treatment.
The Lions Kids Cancer Genome Project is another way that LCIF is demonstrating its commitment to global health. Perhaps one day, we will eliminate deaths from childhood cancer. In order to realize that dream, we need everyone to support our Foundation. No need is too large, and no gift is too small.
Thank you for your generous support of a brighter tomorrow.
The Club LCIF Coordinator is an ambassador for Lions Clubs International Foundation in your club. This person will share LCIF stories, motivate fellow Lions to support LCIF, and enable LCIF to advance its humanitarian work both locally and globally. This new position is crucial to the promotion of our foundation and we need all club presidents to actively recruit within their clubs to enable its success!
Take this quiz to see if this is the job for you. If it is, tell your club president you’re interested!
Translated versions are also available:
Did you know that roughly 70% of all change initiatives ultimately fail to meet their original objectives? Many clubs have exciting goals for the centennial and beyond, and these plans will likely involve change. Yet few leaders address the potential impact that change can have on an organization and its members, which can undermine any plan’s success. Even those who do attempt to incorporate change management processes can miss a crucial first step: identifying an organization’s ability to adapt to change.
In this webinar…
Explore what a change readiness assessment is and why your club should conduct one before any major change initiatives. We’ll also provide you with tools for assessing readiness for change, as well as tips on how to use them.
No matter what changes your club is planning, this webinar will help make it both meaningful and sustainable. Please join us October 26 at noon (CST) or October 28th at 7 p.m. (CST). Register today!
Millions of people in India suffer from vision loss or blindness. A cataract, a clouding of the lens in the eye, is the most common cause of visual impairment in the country. Although surgery can correct the condition, a lack of access to care has prevented many patients from getting the help they need.
Thanks to the continued work of Lions Clubs International since the mid-20th century, hundreds of thousands of people in India have had their eyesight, and their lives, restored.
Past International President Ashok Mehta, who served from 2005 to 2006, helped with Lions’ early efforts to assist people with visual impairments in India, as medical care in remote areas was scarce. Clubs set up temporary eye camps, typically operating from Christmas Day on December 25 through India’s Republic Day on January 26. Partner organizations, doctors and volunteers rotated shifts, performing hundreds of cataract surgeries. “At one camp, we were operating on in the neighborhood of 10,000 patients,” said Mehta, a resident of Mumbai, India, and a Lion since 1963. “There were 20 operation tables.”
The logistics of running the makeshift camps posed challenges. At that time, each patient and a caregiver had to remain at the camp for up to a week to recover after surgery. Food and accommodations had to be provided. But the biggest task Lions faced was educating patients that the procedure could fix their condition. Some patients—as many as 20 percent by Mehta’s estimate—left camp the night before their surgeries because they were fearful of the operation or not convinced that modern medical treatment could help.
For those patients who stayed, the day their surgical bandages came off was unforgettable. “I was thrilled to see on the last day, when vision is granted to individuals who never thought that they would get their vision,” Mehta said. Patients sometimes bowed down in gratitude, laughing or weeping with joy at being able to see again.
With the establishment of Campaign SightFirst I in the early 1990s to raise funds to reduce preventable blindness, Lions clubs were able to take their efforts to new heights. Lions identified India, then home to 25 percent of the world’s blind population, as a prime target for SightFirst grants and programs. Mehta served on the Campaign SightFirst International Committee. Between October 1991 and March 1992, Lions conducted more than 1,000 temporary eye camps throughout the country, restoring sight to as many as 1,000 people a day through cataract surgeries.
Seeing firsthand the eye camps in India was an eye-opening experience for Jim Ervin, who served as international president from 1999 to 2000 and was an international director during the campaign. Some patients waited for days for their chance to receive care. “You could see people lined up more than a mile, sitting beside an old dusty road in a ditch, waiting for their turn,” Ervin said. And although the recovery time for cataract procedures had improved over the decades, the process still wasn’t simple. After surgery, patients would be moved to the concrete floor of a recovery room, fed by a volunteer Lion and the next day fitted for glasses.
“What an amazing thing, but what a great need,” Ervin said. “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.” From 1991 to 1994, Lions funded more than 344,000 cataract surgeries.
In India, Lions are still marching on, fulfilling Helen Keller’s challenge to be Knights of the Blind. Through SightFirst and other initiatives, Lions are building eye hospitals, offering medical training, educating people about eye health, performing eye screenings and making cataract surgeries possible to those in need. And these efforts will continue—until preventable blindness is a distant memory.
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